How Should a Christian Vote? Pt. 3

Election Day is tomorrow! So let’s draw some conclusions! If you would like to read Part 2, you can click here.

I have spent a lot of time laying the foundation of the Lutheran understanding of church and state. Let’s begin by reviewing what has been said so far.

The Bible teaches that God works in two different ways here on earth. He works in His right hand kingdom, and He works in His left hand kingdom. The right hand kingdom is the church. What is God’s purpose in the church? Justification- that all mankind would be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth. How does God accomplish His purposes in the church? Through His Word of Law and Gospel. However, the Gospel always predominates in the church.

God’s left hand kingdom is the state. God has established human authority in this world and has given earthly governments the power to wield the sword- to punish wrong-doing. What is God’s purpose in His right hand kingdom, the state? Justice- that good behavior would be rewarded and evil behavior be punished. The state should be concerned with good order. How does God accomplish His purposes in the state? Through the Law. The Gospel has no place in the state. The Gospel belongs to the church alone.

Remember that both church and state belong to God and matter to God. And while they must be kept distinct, they do not have to be kept separate. And while they can cooperate, they must never be confused. In Part 2, I described a book called Christ and Culture which explains different ways that Christians have tried to reconcile church and state. Martin Luther’s explanation of the Two Kingdoms of God falls best under the category of “Christ and Culture in Paradox.” Christians live with a foot in both church and state. We recognize the primacy of the church and the Gospel, but we also can have something to say about the state.

After all, we are involved in “Left-hand Kingdom” stuff all of the time, even in the church. Schools fall under the category of “state” as do voters’ meetings. Both have to do with human authority and establishing good order. It may surprise you to know that the Bible does not endorse one form of government over another. Democracy is not a God-given right. God can work through dictators and republics and empires. The Church of Jesus has been able to survive and thrive in any form of government.

That being said, we are blessed to live in the United States of America in which “We, the people,” have an opportunity to vote for candidates and laws that we feel best represent us and our values.

However, can we truly “Vote the Bible” as some Christians claim? What does that look like? Are you really casting a vote for God when you check one candidate or the other? How much freedom does a Christian have in the voting booth? What can help guide the Christian who seeks to be active in the state by casting their vote?

Let’s turn to Martin Luther again. Luther has this great quote on Christian Freedom: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject of all, subject to all.” There’s another one of our lovely, Lutheran paradoxes. What does this mean? As people living under grace, freed from the demands and condemnation of the Law, we are not obligated to anyone or anything. Christ is our one and only Master. However, as people who have been given a new life in Christ, we have also been given a purpose. We are not here on our own, and we are not to live for our own benefit. We live for the benefit of our neighbors.

So the only guidance that we get from Scripture in terms of voting is the “law of love.” You have been freed from the demands of the Law. Salvation is yours. Eternal life is yours. You are secure in Christ’s arms forever. You have nothing to worry about or fear. You are free. And it is because of this security and freedom that a Christian can then turn their attention to their neighbor and their neighbors’ needs.

This turns voting in our elections on its head a little bit. Most often, people vote for the candidate that they believe will be better for themselves and their own life. They want a candidate that will ensure their own future. The union worker votes for the candidate that will defend the power of the union so that they can keep their job and be secure. The rich business owner votes for the candidate that they feel will best protect their assets and wealth. Voting is mostly self-serving. Voting actually exercises power over other people. Your vote is an attempt for you to get your way. (If anyone actually tells you that you shouldn’t try to impose your beliefs in the public sphere, ask them if they vote in elections. That’s exactly what voting is- trying to impose your beliefs and opinions on others.)

As a Christian, we are liberated from this self-centered way of thinking. Our future is secure. Christ is Lord. He is in control. So as Christians go into the voting booth, they are free to vote not for themselves and their own way of life, they are free to consider “Which candidate or law best serves my neighbor?”

Granted, we can answer this in several ways. First of all, we have to ask “Who is my neighbor?” All people in this world are our neighbors. However, I think we can narrow this down a little bit more. Who does God seem to have the most concern for in this world? God, over and over again, says that He cares for the downtrodden: the widows, the orphans, the poor and sick. In other words, God is concerned that those who are lowest in society also have justice!

Again, there are many different opinions on how we can help the downtrodden. Some people believe that the government should be more involved. But if giving is forced, is it really giving? Others feel that help for the lowliest in the world are best served through the generosity of others. But what if people are not generous enough, and those who are in need still don’t get the justice they deserve? There are no easy answers here, and I am not going to give you my own opinion.

However, I believe that one issue cannot be ignored by Christians. If we are to look out for the lowliest in the world, those who cannot defend themselves, then we must turn our attention to the lives of the unborn. Who is more helpless than a human being in the womb? And yet, these human beings are being destroyed, and they cannot speak up for themselves. For me, the sanctity of human life and the horror of abortion have become the number one issue when it comes to voting. I hope and pray that someday the abortion laws in this country will be reversed, but for now, I will vote for the candidates and laws that I believe will limit abortion as much as possible. At the same time, we cannot rely on the government to right this wrong. It has to be done in relationship, and that is where the Christian carries the most influence. It is about educating others about the sanctity of human life, which means that Christians must be informed on this subject. Click here to read an article by Scott Klusendorf, president of the Life Training Institute. This helps clarify some of the issues on abortion. Again, if we truly live by the law of love as Christians, caring for our neighbor, I do not believe that we can ignore the horrors of abortion.

So now you have a basic framework with which to sort through some of these issues. We have to be careful to maintain the distinction but not the separation of church and state. Our goal is not a “Christian” nation. Our goal is a just and moral nation. But how do we determine morals? As Christians, we believe in a divine moral law-giver. God establishes morals and justice and values, so in that sense, yes, we can vote “Pro-God.”

I’m going to leave you with a few more links and helpful material on these issues.

Here is a great summary of what took me three, probably confusing, posts to write.

Basically the government rules by the sword, punishing the evildoer to keep law and order; that is to keep everyone from turning on their neighbor. And the church has the Gospel, not compelling men to believe but by granting faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. So, for example, a political candidate who wishes to legislate belief in the Gospel (using the sword of the state) is mixing the two spheres by which God reigns in creation.

So, the Gospel does not compel you to pick a Christian candidate. If it did, and anyone who preaches this is preaching a false Gospel, you might end up electing an incompetent politician (though he remains a Christian). Rather the Gospel frees you from any law in picking a candidate except the law of love. Your neighbor is your chief concern in choosing a candidate; who will best serve his interests.

This is no easy task in a fallen world. You have your first article gifts to be discerning about who you vote for (First article refers to the first article of the creed which confesses God as creator of all things, including giving you a brain). So, you can pray discernment from God as you weigh each candidate or even political party. Yes, that means being an informed voter or you are not serving your neighbor.

For more information on the HHS mandate which limits religious liberty, check out this website provided by our church body, the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod. http://www.lcms.org/freetobefaithful

I also promised to talk about the “pro-Israel” part of the church marquee sign that I saw in town. To be brief, there is no spiritual or Biblical reason to “vote for Israel.” This is a purely political issue. For a better explanation, read this.

Finally, I encourage all of you to keep Psalm 146 in your hearts and minds on Election Day.

Praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord, O my soul!

2 I will praise the Lord as long as I live;

I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

Put not your trust in princes,

in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.

4 When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;

on that very day his plans perish.

5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,

whose hope is in the Lord his God,

6 who made heaven and earth,

the sea, and all that is in them,

who keeps faith forever;

7 who executes justice for the oppressed,

who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;

8 the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.

The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;

the Lord loves the righteous.

9 The Lord watches over the sojourners;

he upholds the widow and the fatherless,

but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

10 The Lord will reign forever,

your God, O Zion, to all generations.

Praise the Lord!

 

 

 

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How Should a Christian Vote? Pt. 2

For Part 1, click here.

In Part 1, I laid the framework of Martin Luther’s Two Kingdoms doctrine, or, as I have decided to label it for our purposes: church and state. Remember, the key in distinguishing church and state is that both of them belong to God. God is not just concerned about what goes on in the church. He is the one who establishes the authority of the state as well.

While both church and state are under God’s authority, they have different purposes. The church’s main goal is justification: that people are declared righteous before God based on Jesus’ death and resurrection for us. The church’s primary tool is the Gospel: the Good News of Jesus.

The state’s main goal is justice. The state has the authority of the sword: that is, to punish people for breaking the rules. They are concerned with good order and the protection of those they have been placed in authority over. The state’s primary tool is the Law: to curb wrongdoing and ensure that people receive justice.

The question for Christians to consider is this: how involved should the church be in affairs of the state and vice versa? Should Christians bring their religious beliefs into the political realm, or should they just keep those beliefs in church where they belong? How should we apply Luther’s Two Kingdoms doctrine? As Christians, we obviously have a foot in both kingdoms during our lives on earth. How do we reconcile them?

In 1951, H. Richard Niebuhr published a book called Christ and Culture, in which he provided five interpretive models by which we might better understand the history of the Christian church and civil government. For Niebuhr, these are the typical answers that Christians have given to the enduring problem of Christ and culture: “Christ against Culture,” “The Christ of Culture,” “Christ above Culture,” “Christ and Culture in Paradox,” and “Christ the Transformer of Culture.” By culture, Niebuhr means “Man’s effort to order the cosmos and define effective and correct ways to live in it.” So you can see how this fits into our political discussion. The battle between Democrats and Republicans is because they define “effective and correct ways” differently. They would also order the world differently. Let’s take a quick look at all of these answers, starting with the two extreme positions on either end.

“Christ against Culture” is an uncompromising defense of Christ’s authority for the Christian. This model calls for a radical break from culture which means that Christians should not be involved in politics at all. Some Amish and Mennonite groups exhibit this anti-cultural, anti-political approach. This model seeks to emphasize the Lordship of Christ, but it overemphasizes the purity of the Christian community. It also does not recognize God’s good establishment of earthly authority and his function for government.

“Christ of Culture” goes the opposite direction of “Christ against Culture.” There is no tension between Christ and culture or church and state. This model presents Jesus as the fulfillment of the hopes and aspirations of society. It tends to see human culture as basically good, tends to deny the full effects of the fall, and so they recreate Christ into various cultural images. The big weakness of this model is the loss of any tension or any real distinction between society and church.

The three remaining models fall in between these two extremes. All of them share the conviction that some tension must be maintained- that both Christ and culture have legitimate, although different, claims upon the Christian.

“Christ above Culture” means that Christians live in both realms, but Christ, as Niebuhr puts it, “neither arises out of culture nor contributes directly to it, but He is the fulfillment of cultural aspirations and the restorer of the institutions of true society.” Both church and state are believed to serve one, divine purpose , but the weakness is the extent to which this unity must be imposed forcefully on a resistant culture, with the Gospel being the prime casualty as a result.

“Christ and Culture in Paradox” acknowledges that humans do not encounter in God a simple unity. God is the God of grace and mercy, but He is also the God of judgment and wrath. Christians using this model don’t withdraw from the world but tend to be rather oblivious or ambivalent to it, recognizing the legitimacy of government as established by God’s hand but also recognizing that it does not have anything to do with God’s grace and mercy.

Finally, the middle ground “Christ the Transformer of Culture” has a hopeful attitude toward the potential of human culture to serve Christ. Those who hold to this model tend to emphasize overcoming and overturning the consequences of sin in culture. I believe those who push for a “Christian America” hold to this model. The strength is the unity of God’s purpose, but it’s weakness is that this unity must be imposed or forced by the church onto the state.

Here is a chart that puts each model in its rightful position.

Now that we have looked at these helpful distinctions, where do you think Luther’s doctrine of the Two Kingdoms falls?

We Lutherans love our paradoxes! Luther’s teaching falls best into “Christ and Culture in Paradox.” The strength of this view is its realistic portrayal of the Christian’s actual struggles to “render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” However, its weakness has been a persistent passivity toward government.

So how does all of this information help you as a Christian to understand your role in both church and state? First of all, again recognize that both belong to God and that God does have something to say about the state and about how we govern ourselves. He is the one who has ultimate authority.

Second of all, recognize the separate functions of church and state. The church is for justification. The state is for justice. Both are good. They should be distinguished. The should not be confused. But that does not mean that they must be completely separated.

As a person living in two kingdoms, with a stake in the church and in the state, a Christian can absolutely be involved with politics. A Christian can also absolutely bring their religious beliefs into the political realm. However, our goal is not to establish a “Christian” nation. That is a bad confusion of both Law and Gospel and church and state. (See Part 1) Our goal is a just nation.

But how do we define justice? We define justice the way God defines it. We define it according to God’s Law. Everyone has the Law of God written on their hearts whether they recognize it or not. That is why every government has laws against murder and theft. As humans, we know these things are wrong. This is not an intrusion of the church into the state. This is a recognition that God knows best for both the church and the state. When things are ordered according to God’s will, things go better for us humans.

Martin Luther has been attributed a saying that he may not have actually uttered, yet we can still agree with it in principle. The quote is “I would rather be governed by a wise Turk (meaning Muslim) than a foolish Christian.” The point is this: we should seek to elect leaders and pass laws that establish justice for all people. The goal of the government is not that everyone become Christian. Just because someone is a Christian does not mean that they will be a competent leader. (This goes for other occupations as well. Should I go to a barber just because he is Christian even though the barber down the street will do a much better job? No. We have no obligation to do so. I also apply this to music. I don’t typically listen to “Christian” music. Nor should any Christian feel obligated to do so just because it is “Christian.” I prefer to listen to bands that I enjoy and that I believe are extremely talented musicians. As one pastor has put it, “Christian is a better noun than an adjective.”)

Wow, I’ve said a lot this post, and I am not sure how much you will find helpful. Hopefully, I did not bore or confuse you. If I did, please comment, and I will try to clear things up. You might find the next post more interesting. In Part 3, I will get more specific as far as voting goes. Are Christians obligated to vote for one party or another or for one issue or another? How much freedom does a Christian have in the kingdom of the state? I will also examine the church marquee sign and video that sparked these posts. Can you truly vote the Bible? Also, I believe there is one guiding principle for Christians to live by in this world, and it applies to voting as well. Check back soon to find out what that principle is….Shoot, I may need two more posts…

I owe much of the content of this post to Niebuhr but also to the Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and their booklet “Render Unto Caesar…and Unto God: A Lutheran View of Church and State.” You can read their whole document by clicking here. It’s the 13th one down.

How Should a Christian Vote? Pt. 1

In my previous post (which you can read by clicking here) I promised that I would give some thoughts on the upcoming election. This does not mean that I am going to tell you how to cast your vote. I just want to give you some principles to think about as you consider whom to vote for. This series is inspired by a marquee sign above a church in town that reads: Vote the Bible. Pro-God. Pro-life. Pro-Israel. I will address all three of those “pros” in another post. But for starters, I want to lay some groundwork for a Christian in regards to the political realm.

Does the Bible tell us how to vote?

There can be a lot of confusion when it comes to Christians and voting. Some Christians will tell you that you have to vote one way or another to truly be a Christian. Some Christians will say that you should not vote at all. Others will tell you that voting is not only your right but your responsibility. Some Christians will say that the goal is to create a “Christian” America. Others will say that a Christian should not bring their religious beliefs into the government sphere.

What are we to do with all of these conflicting messages?

The most helpful guide regarding a Christian’s involvement with government is Martin Luther’s doctrine of the “two kingdoms” (also sometimes called the “two realms”). This teaching of Scripture and explained by Luther and many other Lutheran theologians is a framework for understanding God’s total activity in the world. A prerequisite for understanding the Two Kingdoms doctrine is a familiarity of the distinction between Law and Gospel.

For a quick summary of the distinction between Law and Gospel, I am going to turn to Rev. Dr. John Pless’s book Word: God Speaks to Us. This is from the chapter “The Words That Kill and Give Life.”

God speaks in two completely different voices to us in the Scripture. His Law is the preaching of wrath against sin It is that voice from Sinai’s lofty heights that thunders with condemnation of the sinner and his sin. The Gospel stands in distinct contrast from the Law. While the Law makes demands and threatens with punishment, the Gospel makes promises and bespeaks peace with God in the blood of Jesus Christ. The Bible is misused when the Law is not clearly distinguished from the Gospel. The Bible is misused when Law and Gospel are not used together to teach and meditate. If Jesus is transformed into something other than a Savior, and seen only as a ‘new Moses,’ a spiritual coach, a teacher of moral precepts, or the pattern for the pious life, the Bible is misused and the Gospel is abandoned.

Both Law and Gospel are words from God. Both are important. The Law shows us our sin. The Gospel shows us our Savior. Pless makes another important point however:

I’ve got to get myself one of these!

Law and Gospel are both there in the Bible, but the Gospel is the goal. It is God’s ultimate Word of forgiveness and peace. You have not finished your study of any biblical text until you get to that Good News.

What does this have to do with politics? Hold on, I’m getting there. I hope.

Martin Luther’s Two Kingdom doctrine goes like this. Luther recognizes two different kingdoms at play on the earth. He also refers to them as two realms. You could use two governments (of spiritual and temporal authority.) For our purposes, let’s just refer to them as “church” and “state” since that is familiar to our American eyes and ears. Both church and state have authority in this world, but they have a different kind of authority. They also have different concerns. Here is the most important point to remember as we distinguish church and state: while they are different, they both belong to God. God has ultimate authority over the church. We obviously know that. But God also has ultimate authority over the state or over the civil realm. Another way to describe this is to distinguish between God’s two hands. God has his hands in two different pots. With his left hand, he controls the state. With his right hand, he guides the church. Both are under God.

But again, the church and the state have different purposes. Here is where the distinction between Law and Gospel becomes important. The church is primarily focused on which of the two, do you think, Law or Gospel? The church is primarily focused on the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. The church is concerned with justification, that is, mankind’s right standing before God based on Jesus’ death and resurrection. The church is chiefly involved with spiritual matters: faith, grace, peace, righteousness and so forth. The number one task of the church is to preach the Gospel. Yes, obviously the Law is important as well since people need to be shown their sin so that they can know their need for a Savior. But the Gospel predominates in the kingdom of the church.

Again, the state, or God’s left hand, has a different purpose. While the church’s main goal is justification, the state’s main goal is justice. In the church, the Gospel predominates. In the state, the Law predominates. In fact, the Gospel really has no place in the state. It is all Law, all the time. The state is concerned with good order. That is why God established authority and government- for the sake of order and justice. For really the best explanation of the authority of the state, we can turn to Paul in Romans 13:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

That passage is quite obviously all Law. Obey the government because the government has authority from God to “bear the sword,” meaning the authority to dole out punishment for wrongdoing.

I think that is enough information for right now. I do not want to make these posts too long. For next time, we will dig into the question: How involved should the church be in the affairs of the state and vice versa? This is really the key question when it comes to Christians and the political or civil realm. We will take a look at how various Christians have answered this question and also see how Luther’s doctrine of the two kingdoms helps in sorting these things out.

Vote the Bible?

So apparently there is an election soon…

In the next week or so, I plan to write a couple of blog posts about politics and the Christian, the separation of church and state, and what the Bible has to say. You will hear a lot of different opinions on what you, as a Christian are obligated to vote for and support.  I hope to play the part of devil’s advocate with some of these positions by asking the question (literally asked by the devil) “Did God really say…?”

For now, I just want to put some thought-provoking questions out there. In the town in which I live, a church has a sign up that reads “Vote the Bible. Pro God. Pro Life. Pro Israel.” Let’s ask the good Lutheran question “What does this mean?”

I found a YouTube video that basically says the same thing as the church sign. It’s called “Vote Biblical” (This makes me shudder as a grammarian. It should say “Vote Biblically.” It’s an adverb. And she says it so many times.) So use this video as a teaser to my upcoming posts.